Standing before the crowd at last month’s Learning Café, Weiss endocrinologist Dr. Renee Schickler offered a stark dose of reality: “The statistics on diabetes are getting more and more worrisome,” she said. “We tend to be a sedentary society, and we tend to like fast food.”
An estimated 28 million people in the United States alone have the chronic disease, marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. Treatment costs for diabetes and its complications soared to $174 billion in 2010. The disease is especially common in people over age 65; of the 40 million seniors living in the U.S., about one-third is diabetic.
Dr. Schickler sees many diabetics and pre-diabetics at the monthly Diabetes Health Fair she runs at Weiss. There, people can obtain free blood sugar screenings as well as chat with dietitians and Dr. Schickler about ways to keep the disease under control—or avoid it altogether.
Nearly 80 million people in the U.S. are considered “pre-diabetic.” While a normal fasting blood sugar level runs below 100, physicians typically begin watching for diabetes if a person has blood sugar levels between 100 and 125.
However, Dr. Schickler cautioned, “The tests should be run more than once to see if (a spike) was just one aberration or if there are many.”
Also called “glucose intolerance,” Dr. Schickler cited some statistics that suggest anywhere from 35 to 70 percent of pre-diabetics eventually develop diabetes.
“Exercise and diet play a tremendous role in controlling those blood sugars,” she said. “Exercise improves liver, kidney and cardiac function, and it lowers blood sugar.”
For people who use wheelchairs, canes or walkers, Dr. Schickler recommends strengthening the upper body and warns against giving up on exercise entirely; check out specialized exercise DVDs from the library, rent from Netflix, or stop by Weiss for one of many (free) exercise classes.
To help monitor diet, Dr. Schickler recommended the book CalorieKing, a calorie, fat and carbohydrate counter. Counting calories isn’t enough, though. “You have to learn to read labels. That’s extremely important, but sometimes they can be hard to read.”
She also cautioned people to be careful with sugar-free items. “To make them tasty, they usually substitute fats,” she said. “It’s better to eat salads, fruits, vegetables and broiled meats.”
For more information on diabetes, visit our Diabetes Health Fair on the third Thursday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can also read more on our website at Managing Diabetes and follow our Health for Life blog, which has the latest news and tips for leading a healthy life.